BRING ME MY SHOTGUN
The night after Nick is put on a one-way train from Waterloo, he is sitting on a bench outside Archway station. After two nights outside, he realises that the streetlights never go out, all night. Nearby is a bus shelter with few people inside.
He knows that soon he will have to find a way to eat, and to get some more clothes.
On one side of Nick is a teenage boy in a dirty white tracksuit and baseball cap. On the other side is a hunched-over old man with glazed eyes and a cock-eyed expression, who had been put on the train with Nick. They had both been asleep near to the Frankfurt market in Central London, and were moved north, with five others, by the Met.
Above their bench hangs a very bright Christmas light display made of hundreds of bulbs. Fairy lights drape from the branches of a nearby tree.
In his pocket Nick can feel a wallet, which is empty except for a picture of the girlfriend that kicked him out three days ago, and a mobile phone with no battery.
The old man next to Nick speaks in a loud, wheezing voice. “Have you got a lighter, boss?” he asks.
“No, sorry,” Nick says.
The old man nods. “Yeah, k, k.” He takes a drink from a black can of white cider. Flecks of it drip from his beard. Nick looks at him and thinks that he does not look quite alive.
There is a bright light on inside the nearby bus shelter. The space inside looks like a separate world, as if once the people step out onto the pavement or onto a bus, they will cease to exist.
A block of people spills out of a bus, moving through the shelter and onto the pavement in front of the bench. All of the people carry thick eco-friendly paper shopping bags. A little girl stares at Nick as she walks past him, swinging a red Selfridges bag with snowflakes on it. Her hat has cat ears on it, and on her woollen jumper there is a red-nosed reindeer.
“But, yeah…” the old man sat next to Nick says, as if he had been talking. His voice is hoarse. “…Kay she drops me off in a taxi the other day and they give me a cup of coffee in that café over there, but she’s in hospital now.”
A bus splashes through a puddle and in the water Nick sees reflected beads of light from Christmas lights that hang from between the two nearest lampposts.
A car beeps its horn at a man who is hurrying awkwardly across the road, talking to himself and carrying a canvas bag.
The old man continues, saying, “Kay, she ses ‘John, she says…”
The tracksuit boy on the other side of Nick turns to him. “Do you speak Arabic?” he asks in awkward English. “I’m from Morocco.”
Nick shakes his head.
“I want to play football,” the boy says.
“Where I can play football?”
The man who has crossed the road sits with his canvas bag on the floor in front of the bench, still talking to himself. He has a long handsome face and a goatee, and Nick thinks that he looks a lot like a cartoon devil. The skin around the man’s small eyes has the appearance of crumpled paper.
The Moroccan boy kicks a McDonalds wrapper at the man, and it hits his canvas bag. “Goal!!” the boy shouts. He gets up. “Lucifer, you’re in goal,” he says.
“I’ve lived with dead mice,” Lucifer says, rocking and pointing in accusation at a spot on the pavement. “Curled up on the floor.”
A middle-aged commuter rushes toward the station, and almost trips over Lucifer. The commuter tuts and shakes his head angrily as he hurries away.
Lucifer pulls at his hair in what seems like mock despair, then his face becomes suddenly blank and sad, and his right eye winks madly. “I cannot stand up in my own home. I cannot stand on the floor once I have slept on it,” he says.
“He’s crazy,” says the Moroccan boy.
“You know boss…” says the old man on Nick’s other side, but doesn’t finish the sentence.
Nick looks up but cannot see the sky. The Christmas light display above him ripples in the breeze. These bulbs above his concrete bed, they will never turn off, all night.
“Why, why, why the skin on my arms?! Why this?” shouts Lucifer, looking over his shoulder at the road. He gets up and carries his canvas bag over to Nick. “Watch that, please, for me, will you?”
“Okay,” says Nick. The bag is empty. “What is it?”
“What is it,” says Lucifer.
“I need you. You. To watch that. Please,” says Lucifer.
“Yeah,” says Nick.
“Yeah…” Lucifer walks up to the bus shelter, then comes back and sits down in the same place he was before.
“Can I help you with anything?” asks Nick. “Are you okay?”
“Are you okay?…Can I…” Lucifer’s eyebrows raise then furrow. His eyes are wide. “I’m a bum, this is my bed,” Lucifer says, pointing to the bench Nick is sat on. “I’ve been punched…kicked…”
“I’m sorry…” Nick says. “I didn’t-,”
“No, I didn’t.” Lucifer tries to hide his face after he says this, but Nick can see him starting to cry.
A pair of male cops approach Lucifer. A second pair of female cops walk up to the bench, with their hands tucked into the pouches near their chests.
“Excuse me,” says one of the male cops to Lucifer. “You can’t sit here.”
“Could you put the can away?” one of the female cops says to the old man.
“Bring me my shotgun,” Lucifer says to one of the male cops.
“No space at the inn,” says the old man, and laughs before coughing up a stream of phlegm.
Lucifer looks up, nodding. “Bring me my shotgun,” he says. “Bring me!”
“Right, up you get,” says one of the male cops. “You can’t be saying things like that out here.” Him and his partner grab Lucifer by the arms and try to pull him up. Lucifer struggles and kicks his legs out frantically.
“He doesn’t know what he’s saying,” Nick says, standing up and looking over the shoulder of one of the female cops.
“Hold it,” she says.
“He’s just repeating stuff,” says Nick. “He probably heard it somewhere.”
“This is…coat hanger….I don’t…” says Lucifer.
“You three are going to have to move,” the other female cop says. She presses a button on the front her walkie talkie but it doesn’t seem to do what she wants it to.
“Leave him be, yeah? It’s not what it sounds like,” Nick says, as Lucifer is pushed face down into the pavement. “I think it’s the title of a story or something. He’s not being threatening…”
In the bus shelter people are staring. A lorry drives past, and in its headlights Nick sees that in the plexiglass somebody has written God knows you.
“He’s not…one second,” says the female cop, frowning at her walkie talkie and pressing the button again and again. Her partner leans in to take a look.
Main photo by Paul Goyette